Hello again! It has been a really hectic month in my traineeship. I broke free of the office and made it out into the field to go on some magical bug walks with young inquisitive minds. Apologies if this blog does sound rambling at times but all the fun stuff is literally bursting out of mind and onto this keyboard! I keep on remembering new awesome stuff. So without further ado here is a beguiling journey through March and the start of April.
I ended last months blog by shouting from the rooftops about how excited I was to be involved in TCVs citizen science event at Maryhill community hub and it did not disappoint. After lugging about 5 litres of pond water from TCVs Stirling office to Maryhill in Glasgows west end I had to take a deep breath and a seat. All the other trainees where there and they were all buzzing. THERE WAS A BADGE MAKING MACHINE. After we all hugged the machine for what seemed like hours we got to work inspiring young minds. I was paired with Stephen and we kept on lobbing fact bombs about tiny freshwater invertebrates and newts at bedazzled young ‘uns. The kids loved it and they always wanted to interact with the invertebrates. We put on quite a show and then took everyone on a lovely nature walk to the botanic gardens where we sauntered round the place like we owned it and we felt that we kind of did after having such an amazing morning.
I finally had my first solo bug walk! St Andrews primary school in Cumbernauld was the destination (a commemorative plaque will be unveiled later this month). The kids were really switched on and knew their stuff. When I was telling them about all the cool minibeasts that they could find out there they were telling me extra ones! The walk was held at Cumbernauld Community Park and the weather was typically awful but that did not stop us. The kids grabbed the trapping jars and nets and got stuck in right away. We found a ton of cool specimens. The kids favourite was the snail eating ground beetle (Cychrus caraboides). After this we played a game of stage tag where we had to tag each other move to the next stage of metamorphosis. I kind of forgot the rules half way through because I was having too much fun pretending to be a caterpillar. The kids got right into it and we did different insect metamorphoses from ladybugs to bees. I snuck off and set up the next task, a game of camouflage! I hid pieces of coloured string through woodland which the kids then had to find. The game would highlight how invertebrates camouflage themselves to hide from predators as the black and brown string would never be found. The game passed off without a hitch. The group got it right away and they realised why it was especially difficult to find ground dwelling invertebrates. After this I tasked the kids with drawing “marvellous minibeasts”. This game required the kids to draw what they think a perfect minibeast would look like. It could have any number of features from the creatures that they had encountered that day. Using their crayons (incidentally what I am using to write this), they created some dazzling examples. The colours were iridescent and they had a ton of legs! Some added other features such as laser canons and extra camouflage! Everyone was shattered and after this we called it a day. This was such a vital experience for me. I learned what worked and what did not for this age group. I took it on board and prepared for the walks to come.
I also attended a bumblebee id course in the Royal Botanic Gardens. This proved a handy refresher for me. I was delighted to see so many bumblebees out at that time as they are my favourite invertebrate and I cannot shut up about them! Look this paragraph should have ended just then but I cannot stop talking about them. Seriously after you read this blog go out and look for some bumblebees, they are little treasures.
I then had my largest bug walk so far at Calderbank primary school in Calderbank. The whole school came out on the bug walk! All 46 of them! I was initially worried as I had never done a walk with so many people before but I should not have bothered as they were a lovely bunch. The initial game put mind at ease. The kids had to make the shape of an invertebrate in their groups of three. The imagination and breadth of knowledge about what invertebrates are at such a young age was heartening. One group made an amazing scorpion involving sitting on shoulders which I do not possess the necessary descriptive powers to tell you about but needless to say, it was incredible. We then played camouflage and the kids did not find the brown and black strings again. This game is fun and handy for showing how camouflage works for invertebrates. It also trains the surveyors eyes to look for darker unnatural objects. With this out of the way we set out for our bug nature walk. After a quick set of safety instructions and boundaries set up the kids were off. We all agreed that it would be best to record what we caught so that we would have a valid record of what invertebrates where in the area so that we would have a better idea of how to protect them. I have never had so many kids shout “David, over here!” at me at the one time. I loved it; it showed how enthusiastic they were. All the facts that I gave them regarding their trapped invertebrates astounded them. They could not get enough. They were still whirling about me when it came to the next task: setting up bug hotels. The area at Calderbank Park is filled with deadwood and damp places and the kids realised that a lot of inverts love these spaces so we all set about creating our own bug homes by piling up logs and rocks to make our own little hotels. The kids added their own flourish with TV rooms, balconies, swimming pools and one kid built a games room that looked more like a shed but what the hey, do not stifle creativity! At the end of the day the kids looked at the record of what they had caught and realised their was a lot more in their local woodland than they thought there was and that it was always worth going for a look. They were also desperate to go back and check their bug hotels for new occupants. The kids were really up for more bug walks and the chance to go on another after the summer holidays was mooted so….watch this space. Or don’t whatever.
I accompanied my colleagues on a survey of Stewarton Park for pollinators. This was in anticipation of a wildflower meadow being sown there in the near future. The wildlife there at the moment was pretty barren as is expected of parkland. Placing a wildflower meadow in the park will increase the diversity tenfold. The wilder areas of the park were much better with some amazing solitary wasps buzzing about. The rangers were lovely and so knowledgeable. I now know why a dandelion is called a dandelion! It was named after Mr Dandelion apparently (seriously though its from the French “lions teeth” or “dente-lion” after the spikes on the base of the flower that look like lions teeth). I learned a great deal about interacting with adult groups and how to teach the use of survey techniques to them.
Another big event in the past month was the swarm at Possilpark. This involved helping a local community build an allotment garden and a garden path while also levelling out an area where a shed will be built. This was back breaking work but proved to be really inspiring as so many member of the community and TCV came together to build an awesome structure that will only be a good thing for the community on the Hawthorn estate where it will be built. I enjoyed the chance to work in close proximity with my fellow trainees who all got stuck in and made it a really fun day from finding a tiny leg in the dirt to helping each other load up on hard-core. The event also showed me the scale of work and preparation that goes into a project of that size. It has instilled a sense of commitment and drive within me to get myself involved in a task of that magnitude with my own project which I shall be starting soon.
As you can see this has been a busy month. The coming months however will be even more hectic. The chance to help communities through bug walks is worth it though. This is such a rewarding job. Right now I would not want to be anywhere else; I cannot wait for what is coming next. Thank you for reading.